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Someone To Run To (27/32)


Chapter Twenty-Seven, In Which the Attack Begins


The universe, I have decided, hates me. Hates me, has sadomasochistic wet dreams of me when she isn't staying up late at night planning ways to make my life miserable – the usual.

I don't honestly know why I agreed to take over Severus's job other then it seemed a good idea at the time. At the time, I was confined to bed rest with the promise that, if I accepted, I'd be allowed to leave my bed for brief periods of class planning, I could have been asked if I wanted to juggle cats and would have answered the affirmative if it got me out of bed.

I resented this baby just a little bit. Claudia I could handle. I loved Claudia. She was an innocent accident, one I could never not enjoy, and perfect with her steel-grey eyes and dark black hair. She could be my one innocent mistake, my one happy accident. My "Tertiary Beneficiary" I couldn't help but feel some anger towards. Having to rest and leave HQ un-cleaned. No Quidditch. Again. A whole bunch of stupid reasons I didn't want to even be thinking ran through my mind and repeated themselves over and over again. It wasn't right it wasn't fair didn't I deserve to be able to love and fly and go to school and play games and go about as a seventeen year old girl was supposed to. You weren't supposed to be having babies at seventeen despite the fact your body can do it. Especially not your second one. I think I read somewhere it screws both of you up – psychologically, that is.

Groaning internally at my thoughts, I rummaged in my bag. Syllabi, check. Ink bottle, extra quills, parchment, check. Books for Charms after, check. Law book for boredom, reading book for amusement, Dark Arts book on destroying things completely for research, check. Mascara, fold-up-brush thingy, lip gloss, check. Where was that stupid thing? I drew a plastic cigarette lighter from my mess of belongings and set it on the desk. My desk. Severus's desk, before. Umbridge's before then. Before it was fake Moody's. And Remus's. And Lockhart's. And Quirrel's. And Harper's. And Grimes'. Fitzpatrick's. Strangeglove's. McNamee's. Rodgers'. Soxael's. Witney's. I wanted to hide under the desk, a little child for once. After all these years waiting to be grown up, I found I really didn't care for it much. It was all, "Oh, Éléonore, take over the British Wizarding government for us, won't you?" and "Oh, Éléonore, we simply must visit your dear aunt Petunia with phials of the most deadly poisons known to Wizarding and Runespoor kind in our pockets," and "Éléonore, please take over this class for me, we've worked it out so you can keep going to Charms and Transfiguration and the lecture part of Potions; isn't it just wonderful and convenient and handy that you just so happened, in part with my urging, to take your DADA NEWT last term, almost like I was planning this all along…"

Not that I thought he honestly thought Slughorn would poison himself intentionally and "force" him into going back to being school Potions Master. But, still… I think there are fewer conspiracy theories about JFK or the Skull and Bones society floating about then I'd thought up on my own since they "asked" me to be the next DADA professor.

An eyeglass screwdriver and my wand in hand, I try to take the lighter apart without burning down the school in the process, which, knowing my luck is a distinct possibility. I'd just charmed a magnifying glass and a flashlight float over my workspace when I realized the sounds I heard around me was not the muffled hissing of Paracelsus playing with his gnome statuette in my pocket but my first class shuffling in from the hall. The new Gryffindor and Slytherin Firsties. Great. I gave one of the first to arrive – a boy with floppy, dishwater hair that I first thought was a midget until I looked at the others around him and determined he was, in fact, above average height for his age – a discomfited smile and quickly stuffed the screwdriver, magnifying glass, and pieces of the lighter into the top drawer.

Once they were all assembled, all twenty-six of them, I waved my wand to close the far door. A few looked bored – Wizarding households, I instantly knew – while others were more obviously interested and, of those, the majority were probably Muggle-borns. Five, I thought. There might have been more, but they were dead now, their bodies returning to the earth. In the end, we all must return to the earth from which we came. A fury was reborn in me at that, one I remembered every time I looked at the entrance hall and saw bloodstains that were no longer there or went near a stair that led to the top of the Astronomy Tower…. And I began to talk.

Quiet, like McGonagall had been quiet my first day, like Severus had been quiet – authoritarian, listen-to-what-I'm-saying, but no so sharp as to scare these children I was only six years older then. I was probably more scared of them, with their quills unlinked on their desks and books not taken out, then they were of me. "The wise man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently;," I began, running with an idea that had just popped into my brain other then the my-name's-Éléonore-Snape,-yes-I'm-a-student-still-but-I'll-be-taking-the-DADA-classes-this-year speech I'd been working over in my head before becoming distracted by the Zippo, "but he is wiling, in great crises, to give even his life — knowing that under certain conditions it is not worthwhile to live."

I looked at them, these fifty-two unwavering eyes trained upon me. Some where blue, others hazel, and more still murky pools of dark brown, but none of them blinked. I tried not to shutter as my heart, already working for two, grew tighter in my chest. Light-headed and mildly ill, I remained seated behind the heavy, Resolute-Desk-esque, er, desk. "Aristotle said that, a long time ago – to warn you now, half the things I say shall ring of someone else's words – but his words are as true now as they were then.

"I want to tell you in fancy words and powerful phrases just what is going on in the world. I want to tell you that you are safe from the war that rages outside of Hogwarts while inside school grounds. I want to tell you, in all truthfulness, that while the world has plunged into shadow and the nightmares devils and demons would not speak of on dark nights, a light remains lit here, a beacon of hope in the approaching night. I want to tell you all this with all my heart, but the fact remains that I cannot, for there is a war going on in our world, a war that the previous headmaster of this school – a man I'm sorry to say you'll never know – died for. War does not kindly stop its march at school boundaries. You will see your classmates take sides in a battle they should not have to fight. You will hear tales of battles that were, and battles that will be. You will, most likely, see one with your own eyes before the year is up.

"I don't say this to scare you. I say this because I want you to know the truth. I don't want you to hear from second-hand sources things that you deserve to know. So I will tell you this:

"There is a monster out there who was once a man. His name, though you won't hear it spoken often, is Voldemort." A few, those I suspected were wizard-raised, shuddered at the name. Only the Muggle-borns had the privilege of looking at me with wide, confused but far from frightened eyes. "The only thing he craves more then immortality is the eradication of Muggles and Muggle-borns. There are those who agree with him, of course, just as there are those who fight against him. Hogwarts is a bastion for those such as that – the Rebellion, if you will." I laughed a little at that, remembering that all it took was the death of Scrimgouer for me to be, legally, of the Rebellion that I had already inherited. "And, for that reason, Death Eaters broke into the school last June."

I didn't know how to continue. So I didn't, letting the silence overcome me for a moment before remembering I couldn't drift off in my thoughts, not here, not when I was supposed to be teaching. "So," I found words at last, "when I tell you to take my class seriously, I mean for you to take it seriously. You will be on time to class, respectful to your fellow students, and do your assignments even if they're late." I stood up then and pulled the syllabi from my bag. Handing them to the tall-for-his-age blonde to pass out, I returned to my desk, sitting cross-legged atop it now.

"Enough with the melodramatics, though. I might as well introduce myself. I am Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Snape, but for practical reasons you can just call me Éléonore, or Ely if you're daring. I don't much care. Anything but 'Professor Snape,' please. I'm still one of you." Curiosity began to peak on the pale faces of the children around me. "I just turned seventeen a month ago; am, technically, a member of Gryffindor house; and will still be taking a couple of classes this year. That being said," I hedged, "there are probably some things you should know about me. Let's see… I've been married for about a year now to the man who you have to call Professor Snape, who'll be your Potions Master… I've a five month old daughter, Claudia-Éléonore, who you'll probably run into if you come to see me after class… I also have a Runespoor – a three-headed snake – name Paracelsus who'll probably be sitting in most the time, unless his radio distracts him, but he's mostly harmless… Oh, and don't believe anything the newspapers say about me. If you've any questions about me, you can ask them today and today only.

For the moment, though, the class seemed to be too bewildered at my sudden shift in moods to honestly think of any questions at the moment, but I knew they would come. Until then I did the best I could and clapped my hand together and delved in. "So, by now you're asking yourselves what we'll actually be learning in Defence, I'm sure…"

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I feel like the victim of a botched decapitation. You know the weird, notched joint I know there's a name for? The one in the skull where it joins with the spinal cord? Right now it's on strike, not wanting to join anything together, 'cause my brain just feels a bit too heavy for normal and my neck really, really, doesn't want to have to do anything at the moment except be decapitated, because it might be a fun alternative to this unique and most unwarranted pain. Foramen magnum, that's what it was. Can a hole in a bone be bruised?

Merlin, I hate fifteen-year-olds. I hate the memory of myself as a fifteen-year-old. No, let's broaden the whole spectrum of people-I-can-do-without-having-to-deal-with to teenagers in general. So bloody annoying, what with their hormones and their dirty minds and I-know-more-then-you,-so-ha-ness. Yes, I do realize I'm a teenager too, but, Gods, I think I might strangle my OWL students before the year is up. No, worse, transfigure them all into snakes and make them listen to Paracelsus for an hour!

I sat in the shower as best I could, imagining I was beneath a nice, warm waterfall that could drown out the memory Belial's minions making not-so-subtle suggestions about you-guess-what. Some of them made even me blush, and I've done some of the things they mentioned… not, of course, that I'd ever tell them that…

"Mère, you've been in there."

"For an hour."

"Did you drown?"

"Yessss," I shouted back, turning up the radio and groaning over the announcement that the song they were about to play had been written by The Haz-Mat's lead singer, Osiris O'Malley, after I'd broken up with him two years ago. I was going to have to write these people and tell them if they didn't stop saying that I would pull entrails out through their eye sockets or something like that.

Merlin, that was a lovely visual. Nice to know teaching brings out the homicidal maniac in me. The Board of Governors is so going to love that.

And indeed there will be time for the yellow smoke that slides along the street, rubbing its back upon the window-panes; there will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate; time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of a toast and tea…

I leaned back, resting my aching head on the edge of the tub, groaning at the pain that was radiating down my back… A careless wave of my wandless hand changed the radio to CD mode, hoping to find something that would knock TS Eliot and his rather unhelpful words, for the moment, from my head.

Ah, the familiar cello, the violin… "I must not commit unnecessary murders…" I mumbled to myself and, to my extreme mortification, fell asleep beneath the warm, comforting spray.

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I woke up sometime later wrapped only in a towel, feeling my hair damp and heavy around me. My skin was alive with the divine feeling of air-drying, making me feel still immersed in the heavenly waters. Dimly I recognized the weight on my hip, my belly, as Severus's hands; that I was half in his arms, though he was still sound asleep. It must have been very late, but I couldn't bring myself to feel anything other then a warm, damp contentment.

Leaning my head back against Severus's chest, I did the only thing that seemed natural and kissed the first readily available part of him – his chin – and traced his jaw line with slow, instinctual movements. In sleepy response, a hand made its way up my torso, warm, callused fingers stopping at the skin just above the towel wrapped loosely about me and moving in small, probing movements that send tingles through every inch of me. I shifted yet again, this time to reach his mouth, causing his hand to be pinned against me in a very nice way.

I found it endlessly funny that, try as hard as he might, he couldn't hide his emotions anymore. Not from me. I knew him too well. Little things like saving me from drowning in the bathtub and falling asleep while holding me gave him all to much away. If he woke up and realized what… advantage… I was taking of him now, well, he probably wouldn't find that as funny as I did. Even if he did enjoy it too.

Taking in his breath as he (with a noise partway between a sigh and a groan) exhaled into my mouth; I tangled my fingers into his hair and raided the aperture now open beneath me. My other hand clutched his shoulder, fingers curling with pleasure as, still half-asleep, his body reacted to mine. His right, smashed against my breast, fought for a better position while the other, enraptured as it was with the details of my tattooed hip and thigh, did nothing to stop me from trying to press myself further against him.

I knew Severus was awake when his movements became more desperate – sex, with us, always seemed to have the "tomorrow you will die" part of "eat, drink, and be merry," even in our most reserved moments, – moving with a plan. Touch here, stroke there, press, tweak, grasp, grip, feel…

Oh god the feel, fingers digging in, the overpowering need…

The words: "Don't want to hurt you."

"I want you so badly."

"The baby-"

"I want you."

"Hurt-"

"I need-"

"I-"

I didn't care, but he did, and I couldn't make him not care. But God it felt good at least to be close to him, bodies moving… that was enough.

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The night couldn't end well, though. That was something that could never be.

I was unable to fall asleep after, possibly because I'd dozed the afternoon away and quickly got tired of listening to the clock count out the seconds, my thoughts unclear but incessant as they thrummed a steady beat in my head. I felt like I was going insane.

"I have a problem, Severus," I heard his familiar voice softly hiss in my latest dream, the monster's face pallid but slightly alive with excitement or, if not more alive, then at least less dead then usual. His eyes, like broken rubies, glinted slightly.

Then, my stomach seeming to fall to my knees, I heard two words I'd never wished to hear uttered from that (perfect) mouth again, "My Lord?"

Razing his hand, as if it were a delicate baton of glass rather then a grey-wooded wand with pitted nodules of bark remaining at its handle he held, Voldemort illustrated for Severus. Or, rather, the man that was Severus in this alternate, analogue universe, in which the "Chosen One" not me but some other me-that-was-not-me, a boy of all things. "Why doesn't it work for me, Severus?" Even in my dream, I think I shuddered violently at the name passing from Voldemort's lipless, serpentine mouth. I might even have snarled a bit, whatever part inside of me that had called Niynhi the Jaguar to protect me coming to life in my anger.

With blankness that had, for once, nothing to do with practice, "My – my Lord? I do not understand. You – you have preformed extraordinary magic with that wand." I'm sure of it. Even if it wasn't the dark yew-and-Fawkes-feather creation Wormtail had returned to him the night of his rebirth, the only wizard in the word to ever out-battle The Dark Lord was Dumbledore, who was dead because of a spell a schoolboy had cast. That must really irk Voldemort… Still, Dumbledore was the only one who could walk away from his former pupil. They said I was strong, but I had never done half the things that he could easily do. Besides, if this wand wasn't working for him, another could easily be found…

"No. I have preformed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand… no. It has not revealed the wonders it has promised. I feel no difference between this wand and the one that I procured from Ollivander all those years ago… No difference." Frankly, I don't know what he was expecting. A wand was a wand was a wand. My holly-and-Fawkes-feather works well for me, just as Hermione's vine-wood-and-dragon-heartstring worked well for her and Ron's ash-and-unicorn-hair for him. We could exchange our wands if we liked and could cast fairly well with any of the lot, but just because I might be waving another's wand about doesn't mean I'll miraculously gain Hermione's skill with fire spells or anything. Idiot. "I have thought long and hard, Severus…" my eventual murderer or victim continued, "Do you know why I have called you back from the battle?"

Severus's eyes remained coolly fixed on the coiled python before him. "No, my Lord," he said with applaudable aplomb under the circumstances, "but I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter."

In this universe, Severus was obviously not my husband or the father of children that didn't exist here. He was, quite possibly, the evil he had shunned long before in my world. I didn't know what he wanted with this Harry-that-wasn't-quite-me, but I didn't like it.

"You sound like Lucius. Neither of you understands Potter as I do. He does not need finding. Potter will come to me. I know his weakness, you see, his one great flaw. He will hate watching the others struck down around him, knowing that it is for him that it happens. He will want to stop it at any cost. He will come."

"But my Lord, he might be killed accidentally by one other than yourself-"

"My instructions to my Death Eaters have been perfectly clear. Capture Potter. Kill his friends – the more, the better – but do not kill him…" I did not, not even for this evil-not-Severus before me, like the turn of voice Voldemort, this remaining seventh or sixty-fourth or whatever of Tom Riddle's soul, took next. "But it is of you that I wished to speak, Severus, not Harry Potter. You have been very valuable to me. Very valuable."

I'd never heard Severus sound so… weak in his life. "My Lord knows I seek only to serve him. But – let me go and find the boy, my Lord. Let me bring him to you. I know I can-"

"I have told you no!" he shouted, his voice such a loud, hissing shriek it hurt my dream-ears. "My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I finally meet the boy."

"My Lord, there can be no question, surely-?" but I knew Severus, my Severus, well enough to know this one felt there was a question and rather hoped for it. I hoped Voldemort did not see. He might not be my husband, he might not be anything to this-universe-me, but I couldn't stand to see anything happen to him. Not when Claudia-Éléonore, in my universe, was sleeping not feet from where I surely still lay and, inside me, little Julien-Sévères or Henri-Auguste or Julia-Alexandrie or whatever I would choose to call him/her grew. Nothing could happen to their father, not if I could stop it, not if the man wasn't even, technically, the man that fathered them. Chalk it up to my "saving people thing" or whatnot, but I couldn't… I don't know what I might do if I had to go on, in any reality, without him…

"-but there is a question, Severus. There is." I wished Voldemort would stop saying his name. This wasn't my Severus – he shouldn't be called by the same name, not at all. Fingers caressing the strangely familiar wand in his hand, "Why did both the wands I have used fail when directed at Harry Potter?"

"I- I cannot answer that, my Lord." My Severus knew of the Fawkes feather cores both our wands shared. Maybe this one didn't, but I doubted it. Severus, no matter what reality he was in, always knew everything. He was voracious for knowledge and, through his spy work, a natural at ferreting out secrets; I didn't see how any Severus in whatever universe mightn't know.

Voldemort knew this too, and with quiet rage asked, "Can't you?" I felt angry too, for no reason I could name, and tried to contain the wave of nausea that rolled over me… This isn't good, my mind started repeating, growing gradually louder and louder, you've got to stop this… I chalked it up to seeing a man who, in a different universe then this one, was my husband being so obviously in danger. Yes, that had to be it… "My wand of yew did everything of which I asked it, Severus, except to kill Harry Potter. Twice it failed. Ollivander told me under torture of the twin cores, told me to take another's wand. I did so, but Lucius's wand shattered upon meeting Potter's."

Trying admirably not to stutter – a sign greater then any I knew that, as he spoke, Voldemort was tearing down this Severus's mental barriers and seeing the truth there that, most probably, ran something along the line of my Severus's – "I – I have no explanation, my Lord."

"I sought a third wand, Severus. The Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grave of Albus Dumbledore… All this night, when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it out to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner… and I think I have the answer… Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant."

This Severus already knew what was coming, and, though I could hear my Severus saying to me in memory Socrates' words, "Death is one of two things… either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything, or, as we are told, it is really a change: a migration of the soul from one place to another," as way of felling me he was not afraid, I knew he was afraid. Maybe Voldemort could sense it. I do not know, though I doubted that any but the two of us could ever tell. "My Lord-" he tried quickly.

"The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore," (not Draco, then, in this universe? Was this Severus evil? Was-?") "While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine."

And then I watched helplessly as he ordered the replicate of my love to die.

I knew it was not natural to dream of alternate universes. Especially ones where I was a boy instead of a girl. I mean, ew, gross! But, seriously, there had to be something wrong with me. I'd spent one restless night a week previous sitting in the library flipping through a dictionary of mental illnesses… Capgras Delusion?No, it was the details of the universe that were replaced, not the people… Gender Identity Disorder? No, it was only in my dream I felt anything other then female… Reduplicative Paramnesia? Nothing sounded right… maybe I was just neurotic…

Magic was magic, though, and so I could count nothing out – including the possibility that, somewhere, an analogous reality existed, the only difference being that, in it, I was a boy, and all the differences between my universe and "his" was spun from that. Obviously, in that universe, I'd never fallen in love with Severus and vice versa, but Dumbledore still had died, though it was that Severus who killed him there. What else was different? What else the same? I'd seen the diadem in that universe, and it existed in mine too, but that had happened before I was born, presumably, so there was nothing to change there…

Life was just so much easier, you know, back in that cupboard-under-the-stairs. I'd only one goal then: survive until I was old enough to get out. I didn't have five different worlds and things pulling me in different directions. I know I'd practically begged for the freedom that I had now. I'd relished, at first, being able sleep when I liked and eat what I liked and generally not be beholden to anyone or anything but the basic rules of Hogwarts that I'd have followed anyway because, generally, they were pretty good ideas. I'd figured it out once that there was a period from after my last class on a Friday (as dinner on Friday nights didn't require our presence) until first period on Monday (as breakfast was always optional, as were meals on weekends, though generally people rarely missed them, if only because the only other food options were what could be owled in from the parents or smuggled up from Hogsmeade) when I'd never have to see an adult if I didn't want to. Like two-and-a-half days worth of time when I was in control of everything and, if I didn't want to change out of my pyjamas or sit for hours by the lake, there was no one to tell me I couldn't but my own common sense. I'd revelled in those moments.

But those moments came with a price. Wife, mother, student, teacher, hero, solider, Minister, daughter, friend – all these things tugged at me, fighting for control. And there wasn't anyone who could define with rigidity my roles anymore… I couldn't just listen and say that, from eight o'clock in the morning to five at night I was a student, and from five to eight I was something else, and from midnight to six it didn't matter what I was because that's when I was to sleep. I wanted rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty, and areas where I could be certain, yes, I was doing the right thing.

How could I be a mother, though, when what little part of my days weren't spent teaching were spent in class or doing other education-related things? How could I be a wife when my husband's days were so similarly occupied? And what of the war? How could I lead it from Hogwarts without neglecting the school? How could I fight if I was leading others? How could I lead the government as a war hero – as a young woman – as a murderess – as a non-political animal, who shunned all things ministry and devoted time instead to law and tragedies? I don't think anyone ever understood just how hard it was, to figure out when you were supposed to be what…

I found myself wondering outside of Dumble- no, McGonagall's office. If I could go up, maybe, and speak with his portrait… But I didn't. I roamed instead the ground floor, forcing myself not to think of dead men.

Instead I wondered why something called "The Elder Wand" might sound familiar. Could it simply be Voldemort was noting the difference, his old was made of yew, this one of elder wood? Or was it "elder" in the way it was older then his old wand? Or-

God, I was hungry. Skipping out on dinner and being to spazz-y to eat a thing was not a good idea. Only pausing to insure I'd remembered to put on proper clothes for visiting the house elves in the middle of the night – and mildly amused at myself for having put on a combination that only Tonks would consider sedate: red-and-blue pinstriped skirt, tank top, and mercilessly red robe, – I headed for the kitchens, wondering how I could convince the house elves to make pizza at one in the morning.

The halls were silent. No one was up but me, at least not in this part of the castle, and it made everything seem silent and ethereal. I couldn't help but wonder how often Dumbledore had done this, or Severus in the years before I'd met him. How often I'd do this again, wondering and worrying about things I could not change…

What was this "Elder Wand," this "Wand of Destiny"? Why would Voldemort be interested in such a pretentiously named wand, one that would make an evil mastermind even more powerful then he already was? Why did I dream of it? Why did I keep dreaming of this strange world?

Why did I dream of Severus's death?

I was going absolutely mental. That was the only explanation. That the pressure had gotten to me at last, and I was creating new things to go mad over. Weren't Horcruces enough? They'd been enough for Rasputin and Méléagre. What did it say of Voldemort that he so wanted to triumph over death he kept on searching for more and more ways to protect himself? Well, remarkably smart not to put all his eggs in one basket, yes, but still. He was a brilliant wizard. He needn't have tried to steal Flamel's Stone, not when, once reborn, he could have striven to create a Philosopher's Stone for himself… I didn't even know if there was such a thing as the "Elder Wand" or if Voldemort was going after it in anything other then my bizarre dreams….

"Mistress Éléonore Snape ma'am," said a house elf coming up to me nervously. He didn't have another pizza in his hands, so I assumed he was expecting me to homicidally disappoint from the way he was wringing his tiny, withered hands.

"Yes, Verney?"

The house elf flushed a faint purple at this. Most people didn't remember house elves, let alone their names, but I'd spent a lot of times in the kitchens for the obvious reasons. Nervously, "Cobby is here, ma'am, and Verney doesn't know what to do."

"Cobby?" I asked uncertain. MaybeI didn't know all the house elves in Hogwarts…

"Cobby is Rufus Scrimgouer sir's elf-" That was enough, though, and I waved at Verney to bring the elf to me. My mind was already running: why would the Minister's elf come to Hogwarts of all places?

My mind went blank for one very long, very still moment, in which the only clear sound that came to my ears was not that of Cobby, explaining how Jasey had seen the Death Eaters come into the Minister's apartment and try to hold them off, but there were too many and told him to go get help and how Hogwarts was the only place he knew to go and how he couldn't "feel" Jasey or Scrimgouer at all and how they had to be dead and he didn't know what he'd do; no, the one thing I heard with any clarity was the radio about midway down the table at which I sat, playing WNN's Albert and Thoth in the Mornings. They were debating the artistic merits of Some Kind of Desperate Feeling's new single "Diligent Vainglory." I barely understood the words Cobby was saying but could hear every word the radio was giving out, as if it were the one intensely real thing in the world and everything else – myself, Hogwarts, the house elves and the news they were bringing me – weren't quite even ghosts, but something less than that – a dream, maybe, of a world that never was. It was something utterly meaningful and full of life, and that the war and the school and the deaths were part of its existence, and I was just a shadow that had never touched anything, though I had touched it all…

And then it hit me.

Dumbledore was dead: The Order answered to me.

The Minister was dead, or close to it: I was, nominally, in charge of the British Wizarding government.

Slowly, the room came to life around me, and I could hear the sounds of pots and pans clanking, rolling pins moving against counters, house elves chattering to each other in squeaky little voices that merged together into a low drone of emotion… after a moment, I realized that my lips were moving, my tongue brushing against my teeth and the roof of my mouth in such a way that strange, strangled sounds were coming out. They didn't make sense to me at first – was it Gobbledegook for all I knew, or maybe some form of Gnomish – but, after several more of those strained, syllabic sounds fell from my frozen lips, I came to realize I was giving orders, making requests; asking for writing supplies, floo powder, and a strong cup of tea. "…go to McGonagall, tell her what's going on and to insure the castle defences are up. Zloty, go to Severus, tell him where I am and send him to McGonagall. Yabby, if you'd do the same for Flitwick?"

Before you could name it, all I asked for arrived on neat little silver trays with little lace doilies underneath everything. Ignoring the parchment for the moment, I went to the fire they told me was connected to the floo and called HQ, praying to every deity that ever existed that I wasn't too late. "Operator?" I asked while trying to make sense of the jumble of feet I saw from my lowly, fireplace-level vantage point. Louder, "Operator?" I called, though still no answer came, a several voices continued talking in quick, rushed tones. Battle preparations, safe houses, healers that were sympathetic to our causes – all of this and more rushed around me, frantic whispers and worried calls that were more reminiscent of preparation for a Quidditch match that everyone knew would end badly then battle. But my ideas of what preparation for a battle might look like were probably unduly influenced by what episodes of Star Trek Hermione had insisted I watch, wherein the crew just teleports down – with their captain, of course – shoots a few laser beams that always hit while being shot at by beams that nearly always miss, and, if you're lucky, end in the moral of the story being carefully explained before the ship warps off into the distance. I never thought that HQ would ever look anything like that, but I think some part of me expected it to. It would make this less real, the assassination of the Minister less real. I didn't even know if the new Muggle Prime Minister knew about magic, let alone the war, and I was going to have to see that somebody – probably a human, not an elf, for his sanity – to make sure the Death Eater's didn't this man who'd been in office… I dunno, four moths? I remember Dumbledore saying something about him… What party he was in, maybe? I'd have to research that, whenever I found the time to see him… If the country was at war, somebody probably had to tell the man in charge of the Muggles, and it probably should be me…

Realizing we were kinda busy here, I shouted, my head bobbing the emerald flames I could see just out of the corner of my eye, "Hey! Guys! Down here!" Half a dozen bodies moved down to my level, so I could see not only Sirius, Tonks and Remus (who I expected, because they lived full-time at the house) but Ari, Shacklebolt, and Ari's assistant Victor Talbot.

Victor was the first to speak, looking surprisingly glum as he said, "You're the youngest Minister of Magic. Ever. Anywhere."

Surprisingly, I found myself giggling. Stress. It must be stress. "I burst your bubble, Victor?"

Wrinkling his nose at me, he answered distastefully. "No. My brother, Richard, might try to murder you, though, so keep an eye out."

I snorted at him, then turned to Shacklebolt, "I've Scrimgouer's elf Cobby here saying that his master's already dead, so don't bother sending anyone after him."

"Merlin!" was the most PG of all curses they let loose.

"Yeah, that was my general reaction. How many people do you have at HQ?"

"About twenty, and Pye with whomever he's managed to wrangle together at St. Mungo's."

"Okay, here's what I want you guys to do. Sirius, Remus? You too take half of who you have and go to St. Mungo's. Do everything in your power to keep from closing, no matter what. Lock down all but the main floo, and go room by room through the hospital checking arms if you have to. Any Death Eaters you find stun them for now and break their wands. Just keep it open, okay?"

My adoptive father nodded and I could hear him in the background, being even now a tease, "Okay, folks, I've just been informed Minister Rufies is kaput, so here's the new plan…"

Trying not to comment on Scrimgouer's new nicknames, I closed my eyes before continuing, "Kingsley, take the rest – hopefully as many Ministry people as you can – and head to the MoM. Take anything important – files, paintings, whatever you think's necessary to take, you'd know better then me – and destroy anything that shouldn't fall into, the like. Oh, and see if you can get one of those seals with the big "M" on them? I've some letters I need to send and it'd be best if I make it as official as possible. Send everything to HQ or Hogwarts, via the kitchens. Head to St. Mungo's when you're done. "

"Aye, milady," he agreed, and calmly pulled Tonks away to start preparation.

Ari spoke up then, eyes seeming alive for the first time in ages, "I get to play 'Operator,' so I'll keep you up to date – unless you want to floo through?"

I shook my head, spat out the ashes that got into my mouth when I did so, then, when she was done laughing at me, "I'm staying at Hogwarts. Couldn't sleep, wound up in the kitchens, and now am setting up my Government-in-Exile amongst bowls of fruit and Belgian waffles. Oh, and since I need a proxy to take over for me as proxy Head of DMLE, could you do the paperwork and put your name on it – don't look at me like that, you're the best lawyer I know. Remember, keep me informed. I'll send someone to keep an eye on the Muggle Prime Minister and have to start my letter writing campaign to convince the rest of the world that Voldemort is not in charge of things and should not be supported…" I heard something that didn't sound like house elves behind me and said, "Gotta go," to Ari as I pulled my head out of the fire.

Hands grabbed me as I fell backwards, my ability to travel by any means no helped at all by the awkward angle floo calls force on the neck. Instantly, the blue light that sometimes overcame me surround me, but didn't sting the hands that touch me. I about cried out, but the hands I felt were familiar and warm, and when I turned the light disappeared altogether. "Severus," I cried, "what're you doing here?"

"The elf-"

"I know that, but I thought I asked Zloty to send you to McGonagall."

"He did," my husband said, pulling me to the table where, indeed, fruit plates and waffles amidst the writing supplies I'd been delivered and pot of strong English tea. "I thought I should come down and see you first."

He pushed me down onto the bench and handed me a cuppa. "I couldn't sleep," I told him, feeling the heat rise to my fate as he looked at me in a way that said, "Oh, really?" Containing the blush as best I could, I continued. "Well, not for long. Then I got hungry and, well, the long and short of it is I've sent the Order to break-and-enter the MoM… Want to head to Downing Street and make sure none of your old school chums try to massacre the Muggle Minister?"

He looked at me askance, as if next I'd ask if he wanted to go around in one of my uniforms for the day, before catching himself and pouring himself a cup.

I couldn't help myself and giggled, briefly leaning my head against his shoulder before pulling away and taking up a quill. What was the best way to address a letter to the head of a government your adoptive father had tried to forcibly marry you to a year or two earlier? Dear Your Majesty, I'm sorry I have written earlier to apologize for my father's behaviour, but now I have a favour to ask you… "How do you address the head of le Royaume de Français de Magicien? I think its something like, Louis XX, par la grâce de Dieu, roi de France et de Navarre, Duc d'Anjou, de Bourbon, et de Touraine, but that's just cobbling together what I remember what they called The Sun King and what I know of Louis Alphonse. Would it be better to call him Louis Alphonse? Should I apologize for Sirius?"

"Constantly."

"Seriously, though, how do you write to the various leaders of the free Wizarding world and tell them that, while I know that a sociopathic psychopath has murdered the head of our government and will, in all likelihood, seize control of the country in a way that we're unlikely to be able to do with our rag-tag bunch of vigilantes. I don't even know how long we'll be able to hold St. Mungo's, if it at all. And asking for French or Austro-Hungarian Aurors to come help us, or, God-forbid, hiring PMCs…" I leaned my head on his shoulder again and sighed.

Setting his cup down, he wrapped his arms around me. I half thought they were trembling, but couldn't honestly believe he'd let even me see how scared he might be. He had personally seen this monster in action. He knew what he could do. And it was a lot worse then simple murder. "It'll be alright, Éléonore."

"You don't seriously believe that."

"No, I don't."

"It's going to end badly, isn't it?"

"Probably."

"And more people will have to die."

He was silent, but held me tighter. The clawing, cloying feel of bile rose in my throat; I felt too warm from too little sleep and strong tea. There was something in me trembling at the thought of what was surely going on around me. Yes, I granted them, I was seventeen-years-old and two-and-a-half months pregnant, but I could fight… I should fight… I should face down Voldemort, like he wanted… But I couldn't, because I was busy setting up a war room in a school kitchen, and trying to find the cup and the real locket and whatever else Riddle might have placed his soul in, and trying to figure out how you destroy soul-fragments without Basilisk venom…

"Promise me you won't die?"

"Everyone has to die, eventually. That's why we're fighting this war. It could've just as easily been purebloods he hated, or Anglicans, or the French. The Dark Lord allowed his fear to take whatever vehicle was necessary to insure that death never found him."

"Well then, I want you to die old in bed beside me. Promise me that."

"I'll do my best. Do you still want me to see the Muggle Prime Minister lives through the night?"

"Would you? Hopefully by morning Shacklebolt will be done ransacking the MoM and one of his folks can take over then, before classes." I groaned, remembering I'd two double periods tomorrow – NEWT classes both; the Sixth Years in the morning and the Seventh in the afternoon – and groaned more deeply remembering Severus had both his First Year classes tomorrow amongst his others, and a sleep-deprived Severus was not going to make a good impression on those poor, innocent children. "Sonsy, go with Severus, will you? Stay out of sight, but nearby in case I need to get a message to him?"

"Sonsy will keep Professor Snape sir out safe, Mistress Éléonore Snape ma'am. Sonsy promises." I let loose a true grin at the idea of tiny, blow-away-in-the-next-good-wind, keeping Severus safe in a way my husband couldn't keep himself.

Joining his sigh with a noise of distaste, Severus extracted himself from me and stood to leave. "If I don't return, assume I expired of boredom."

"He's a Muggle, not a fish. I'm sure you can find something to keep yourself occupied." And with that, I turned to the parchment and began writing:

Votre Majesté, I had wished to introduce myself

under better circumstances, but I think it

best to get to the point of things. This morning…

) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (

I was fiddling, bleary-eyed, with what looked like a perfectly normal eraser in my classroom amongst the various Larger-Then-Life Luggage (WWW patent 198-387-GF-389) scattered about the front of the room. The paintings, un-shrunk and leaning in large piles against the stairs to my office, I could understand. The letterhead-charmer, stacks of files, and bags of artefacts, I could understand. The eraser, I couldn't.

Perhaps I was staring at it too hard, but I didn't notice the door open or Ginny come skipping into the room. When she asked, "What y'doing, Ely?" I about jumped out of my chair and hexed her to small, indefinable bits.

"Herne and Hecate! Are you trying to get yourself killed?" I swore, adding a bit of Parseltongue in for good measure.

"Er, no? I wasn't hungry this morning and thought I'd come hang out here, give you moral support and all. We didn't see you at dinner and assumed that you were trying to find a way to get out of this…" she waved vaguely in my direction, plopping her bag down on a second row desk and riffling through it for something that later turned out to be a packet of Mammoth Mint Chewing Gum. "Hermione would be up here, convincing you to stick it out, that you made a commitment and all that, but you know how she is about breakfast," (here she adopted a tone that wouldn't be out of place on our dear bookworm), "It's the most important meal of the day, and if you don't eat all your veg and have a proper serving of milk or milk-product, you'll never do well in your studies." Ginny might have continued on with her pseudo-Hermione spiel, but instead chose to show me the effects of Fred and George's mint gum: a neon mammoth bubble that waggled its trunk for a moment before bursting in a decidedly un-Hermione fashion. She pulled a magazine out of her bag with this and pushed the heavy thing to the ground so it landed with a thud. Opening up Sugar & Spice, she placed her feet on the desk and tipped her chair back. "I expect you have twenty minutes or so to prepare for her onslaught. She'll probably drag Ron with her, too… So, what's up with you? You look like you didn't get any sleep at all last night…"

I looked from the cover of her magazine, which sported Simon Antila-Delphinis's twenty-something half-sister – the one with the singing career that had made a blip for being so bad last month and would probably pass before next was over; Sedona, I think her name was, and I remember her mother was Ukrainian. Or maybe Rumanian? I didn't really care, but it was a curiosity – to the eraser on my desk amongst the scraps of paper I'd played around with the stapler-looking-object that you waved parchment under and caused the Ministry letterhead to appear back to Ginny, who was waggling her eyebrows in a way I didn't know if eyebrows should be waggled in, let alone hers. "Er… Ginny, dear, you haven't heard from your parents today?"

"Nah," she flipped the page. "Apparently, though, aqua and teal are the new pink and something-or-other, whatever that means. Pity teal makes me look like a burning Christmas tree; it's one of my favourite colours."

"And you don't wonder why I'm sitting in my classroom at," I paused and looked at the watch Severus had given me for my birthday, engraved with the words:

Ex hoc momento pendet aeternitas

which, he told me meant:

Eternity is hinged on this moment

"six twenty-seven in the morning, surrounded by paintings, a handful of statues, and enough paperwork to wallpaper Leeds at all?"

"I presumed there was a reason. Kinda curious what's so interesting about an eraser, though, that you're staring at it so hard? Is it a portkey or something?"

Tossing the eraser into a drawer, "No idea."

"Oh. Did you rob the Moskva Museum last night?"

"You know I can't portkey like this." She stuck out her tongue at me, then flipped another page. I hated to burst her bubble, but she might as well know. I had to tell my friends sometime. "No, it's from the MoM."

"You robed the MoM?"

"No, Shacklebolt did."

The legs of her chair hit the floor. Hard. "Shacklebolt? Bald,-Head-of-Aurors,-Prince-of-Hotness Shacklebolt?"

I laughed an its-probably-not-as-funny-as-it-seems-to-me-now laugh at this. "Well, I wouldn't exactly call him 'Prince of Hotness,' but-"

"Well, of course you wouldn't. You've no taste for men at all – I mean, you married Snape." Then, shrieking, "OH MY GOD!" the realization hit her, "You're the Minister!"

"Proxy Minister," I corrected, burying my head in my arms.

"Minister, Proxy Minister, whatever; they killed Scrimgouer and you're Minister and oh my god I've got to find Ron and Hermione; is it okay if I leave my things here, thanks, see you later," and, when I looked up, I could only see her back as she raced out the door.

Yeah, it was going to be a long day.

All night long reports had come in, all saying noting I wanted to hear. Dark Mark above Scrimgouer's apartment, and when auror and obliviators without Order ties to know not to respond arrived, and were picked off one by one by the Death Eaters who remained behind. Dark Mark in Bristol, for no adequately explained reason. Death Eaters found in St. Mungo's, now stunned and locked in the hospital's morgue. Death Eaters in the MoM, and no word yet on what was going on there, if Voldemort was trying to establish a "legitimate" government or…

Well, I don't know what else, only that Shacklebolt flooed much of what his group had stolen to me at Hogwarts and I now had to find something to do with paintings of snooty old geezers and flies of Merlin knew what…

"Éléonore?" came a call from the door.

I jumped to my feet and half ran to the door. "Sev'rus!"

With a disdainful movement, he raised his eyebrow, but caught me up in his arms nonetheless. "Sugar Quills or Chocolate Frogs?"

"I resent the implication," I laughed into the nape of his neck, my feet, at a loss as they dangled, kicked back-and-forth a bit. "Towzy and Diddy fed me very well, I hope you know."

"Oh, did they?"

"Yes. Belgian waffles and blanched pears with honey and this wonderful creation called 'Chai Tea'…"

He let loose that laugh that, still, so few besides me have heard and set me back down on my feet. Quickly turning grim again, "If you ask me to mind that man again, I-"

"What did he do – after freaking-out, of course, unless someone bothered to fill him in before we got to him?"

"Cricket."

"Cricket?"

"As in the game, cricket?"

"I'm half convinced it's a form of torture myself." I snorted at that. "Though he did try at first: before that he tried asking me my opinion of the situation in the Middle East."

"There's a situation in the Middle East?"

"Apparently."

"Merlin, it's nice to know someone out there has bigger issues then me." I waved my hand at my surroundings. "Want a priceless artefact to hang in your classroom? I think I saw a painting of Bridget Wenlock, the arithmancer, somewhere… Or would you like the statue of Paracelsus – the wizard, not mine? I'd put it in here, but I don't think my Paracelsus would like it much… I think I'll keep the painting of Andros the Invincible, though… if I remember where I put it…." I yawned loudly.

"You should rest, Éléonore."

"I'm waiting until I slip to the bottom of this hell – I don't want to fall asleep and find I've drifted further with no idea how I got there."

"Éléonore," he began condescendingly.

"It's just the hormones, Severus. I know you're being sweet, in your own way – and, yes, I promise I'll never tell any of the students you can be sweet if you wish to be – but I'm just not in an open mood for sweetness. I seem to be stuck in one of those modes, you know, where things keep alternating between busy, over-stimulating, can't-pause-to-think and such absolute listlessness and ennui that it's really inconceivable that all this has only been going on for a day or so. I keep waiting for the universe to knock itself back into place, but it's not happening yet, so don't bother being nice to me at all, I can't for the life of me appreciate it." I sunk onto my chair and leaned back. "Though if you could tell me why, of all things, when I asked the Order to steal everything important from the MoM they could and burnt the rest, they flooed me an eraser. No other writing supplies, just an eraser. It can't just be an eraser, but I can't figure out if it's something transfigured, or a portkey, or whatever; I half think it's someone's idea of a joke. It's dangerous! It's an enigma! No, wait, it's just an eraser!"

"I think you need sleep."

"I think so too, but I've class in… well, soon, and so do you. We can meet up after dinner and figure out the best way to run a government headquartered for the time being in the school's kitchen."

He, of course, didn't dignify my insanity with an answer, merely rolled his eyes at me and left. I probably do need sleep after this endless morning. And therapy.

After a moment of silence, I couldn't help but feel the resentment for the baby inside me growing. It was not my natural position to remain, safely hidden in Hogwarts, while others fought my war. Staying, hiding, not knowing what lay behind my door – it was a frightening thought. I hated that fear. I hated myself for having that fear. I hated the baby for forcing me from action, from taking all my choices away from me. I know that's wrong, that my choices weren't taken, that I just had to take care of myself for Claudia and they baby brother or sister she'd soon have. Still, I felt it…

There were options for situations like this. Options I hadn't even paused to consider with Claudia. Things weren't as bad then, not with Voldemort and the war. I didn't need to worry about government or teaching or the rest of it, not then. And now… another pregnancy. One that I physically and mentally unprepared for, not after last year. I hadn't time to get back to normal after, before it started back up again…

I think, in a dream, I wouldn't have dreamt it this way. I'm not sure, even now, if this is what I wanted, this way… It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded… Severus always thought it funny that I hated nearly every book written at the turn of the century, but I was positively in love with W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. I told him it was like an Irving novel in more flowery prose, but he didn't see it. Still… the loss of dreams was painful, even if they were dreams we didn't know we had.

) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (

I somehow made it through the Sixth Year class, my tired glares silencing the multitude of questions that they, naturally, wished to ask. Most of them had been in the DA before, and although some hadn't – a couple of Ravenclaws and the odd Slytherin; – enough of them were inclined to respect my position as professor that they caused me little trouble. The fear of NEWTs was still fresh in them, and though that fear would not last long, I hoped they'd be in the habit of respecting me by then. Even if Luna insisted on calling me Professeure Snape instead of Éléonore, as I'd asked.

Too stressed to eat, I skipped lunch in favour of asking the portraits why they out of all possible choices had been stolen – the painting Bridget Wenlock, for instance, had a fellow in Gringotts, while that of Justus Pilliwickle had a rather dull set in the offices of MI5 – and trying to find places I could put them that would a) keep them from getting stolen by Death Eaters or their spawn and b) satisfy their desire to be entertained. I was threatening them with dark closets and dust cloths when Hermione bounded through the door. Taking one look at me, she pulled me to my desk, sat me down, and handed me a stack of toast and a flagon of pumpkin juice before beginning to berate me on taking such poor care of myself.

"I feel to sick to eat, honestly, 'Mione."

"Eat."

"No."

"Éléonore-"

"I'm not three years old-"

"You're acting like it-"

"I'm not hungry-"

"You can't-"

"Okay, new Ministry Decree: the Minister cannot be forced into eating breakfast. I've the official stamps and whatnot around here somewhere. Give me a moment and it'll be all official and everyth-" Hermione stuffed a piece of toast into my mouth.

I tore the toast, chewing angrily. It was dry and cardboard-esque. When I finally swallowed, I glared angrily at my best friends. "I'm not in the mood for games, you guys! Do you have any idea what's going-?"

"Yes! You need to keep up your strength while-"

"Don't tell me what I need to do; I know full well what I need to do. It's kinda shouting at me right now," I gestured towards the stacked paintings behind me, "and I don't need you make it worse."

"I'm not-"

"I know you don't, but, God, can you just give it a rest for a moment?" I gestured to our classmates, who were making their way into the room. She at least knew to keep her protestations quiet while there were others in the room. A sudden loathing of both her and them overcame me, a disgust that they were content to just stay in Hogwarts and hide behind its walls. They were old enough to fight – hadn't I myself done so when I was younger then them – and yet, here they were, being schoolchildren in a world where it was not safe to be anyone who could not defend his- or herself. It was sickening, and made be angrier then I could believe to look at them, sitting in desks, doing nothing while the very future of our world hung in the balance. They could have done something, anything, and yet they sat here and forced me to work for them, some kind of Atlas for their causes. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want the world to end; I wouldn't so carelessly shrug as Ayn Rand would have wanted me to – I valued too much the world and all that was in it. But was it too much to ask that I have only one pressure? That I be made into a hero alone, one that would fight when necessary the villain and, in the meantime, be left to raise my daughter and my unborn child in peace? Let someone else lead the Order – Remus, for instance, would be so much better at it then I. Let someone else take charge of the government-in-exile. Another still could take the cursed position of DADA teacher. I didn't need this all. They kept on telling me I must rest for my health and the baby's and yet told me in the same breath that I must do what I must for society. It was enough to give me a headache in addition to the pain in my stomach and the bile in my throat.

I tried to contain myself, to hide the perhaps not undo anger I felt at them. I told them how I wanted to be addressed, what we were covering, and that every mention of my sex life would drop their final grades two points. But I couldn't help but think as I tried to teach them and be the person they wanted me to be that I should try to be kinder in my thoughts, because, after all, I was a special circumstance, and that they should revel in their youth and innocence while they could, before the Death Eater's stole away their happiness. But I couldn't, nor could I bring myself to worry overmuch on it. I already knew my fate.

Chapter Twenty-Eight.